For many years, Antonio Brown’s sole claim to relevancy was limited to being one of the best wide receivers in the world. He grew up in Liberty City, Florida, much like the kids shown on the criminally underrated Friday Night Tykes, became a standout two-sport athlete, and did three years at Central Michigan University, perhaps making him the most famous Chippewa since the guy who wrote Marley & Me. Yes really, and don’t @ me Bro, J.J. Watt did his one-and-done at CMU a few years later.
So despite being an undersized sixth-round draftee who was at one point traded for a pick used on John Skelton, he went to seven Pro Bowls. He has since led the league in receptions, receiving yards, receiving TDs, all-purpose yards, yards per touch, or some combination thereof most every year. In a five year span, he caught more passes than anyone, ever. At this point his statistical peers are Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald, the latter’s numbers being somewhat inflated due to his Cardinals career dating back to the days of the Morgan Athletic Club.
His Steelers stats speak for themselves. 1698 yards in 2014. 110 yards per game and 15 yards per catch in 2017. One would figure that Pittsburgh would grow nothing but pox after pox from salted earth after unleashing Poison onto the world, but somehow they get Iron City Beer, being the setting of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Antonio Brown in his prime. Seems unjust on balance, but then again this is 2019 America. When is the last time you remember someone actually getting what they deserve?
No matter anyway. Somewhere along the line, Brown got sideways with Ben Roethlisberger, apparently triggered by the grave sin of tossing a Gatorade cooler on the ground, the feud being exacerbated by Fat Ben’s then-unchallengeable right to go on Pittsburgh sports radio and repeatedly throw his teammates under the bus, something that was a consistent problem for years. This kicked off a bunch of ticky-tack nonsense that ended with Brown not practicing with the team prior to their last game of the 2018 season. You can say he quit on his team or whatever, though as he tells it, he had Mike Tomlin’s blessing to sit out that week and heal up, only to have Tomlin turn around and bench him. I suppose we’ll never know, though the last time I checked football coaches were jammed between scoutmasters and strip club DJs on Billboard’s Most Honest People chart.
Brown then demanded a trade via a tweet scored with one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard, not that it matters; “great taste in music” isn’t really part of my narrative here. Regardless, he was on the block, with Mark Davis, Dan Snyder, and the damn-near-angelic-by-comparison Adams sisters being his primary suitors. Davis, perhaps concerned about the lineality of his record of atrocious decision making, weeble-wobbled in and offered $50 million for three years with $30M guaranteed, presumably having convinced himself that AB would be the Raiders’ next great reclamation project, even though they haven’t actually pulled that off since…hell if I can remember…Rich Gannon I guess?
The rest is recent history, some of which we’ve already covered. He got frostbite in August, which triggered a lot of what-the-fucks from people too young or dumb to remember that the same thing happened to Rickey Henderson. Incidentally, Henderson makes for something of an analogue to Brown. Today, the media falls all over themselves gushing over Rickey and (accurately) portraying him as the fiercely competitive greatest leadoff hitter of all time, but those of us who watched him in his prime remember the number of euphemisms for uppity used by broadcasters being barely eclipsed by the painfully unfunny sketches and jokes about his illeism.
And I’m not going to rehash the helmet thing except to say that it was resolved. A great deal of reporting over the weekend framed the issue as though AB didn’t take a rep or run a route during training camp. That’s just not true. Brown agreed to play in a Xenith Shadow helmet back on September 4, went back to camp, and practiced with the team. It was on HBO and everything! Pretty sure it was right before or right after the part where the head coach told him that the missed time was not a concern.
And then Mike Mayock goes and fines him for it anyway. This after trying to give him an ultimatum in mid-August with two preseason games yet to play. Now, far be it from me to second-guess the decision to hire a man who had been doing color for the last 14 years and was successful to some degree based on his voice sounding a lot like that of Phil Simms. Maybe hiring someone who was last employed by an actual NFL team in 1984 as a backup safety to be your GM is some of that 4-D chess I hear about whenever Trump does something superficially outrageous. Firing his psychotic warmongering security adviser for advising against a Taliban sleepover on 9/11, for instance.
After all that, with at least $30 million on the line, Mayock’s $50K fine broke the levee. After reportedly calling Mayock a “cracker”, which if we’re being honest is kind of hilarious, Brown reached his breaking point. He went home, had it out with Gruden on the phone, and showed off some amazing digital editing skills. The Raiders cut bait, and any knives that were sheathed after the helmet thing were back out in full force. All of this was Brown’s fault – again – and all of the usual suspects piled back on. Mike Greenberg said that the “orchestrated attempt to get himself out of [Oakland]” was “the most unprofessional act [he] could ever remember seeing in professional sports,” apparently unaware of how Aaron Hernandez got out of his last contract. Even the usually forward-thinking Deadspin called him “high-risk.”
And sure enough, he wound up in Foxboro. Not since Pat Tillman has a player become a Patriot with such remarkable haste. So now we find ourselves with everybody predicting that Brown in a Patriots uniform will be Godzilla to the rest of the league’s Japan. The thing is, he would have been great in Oakland, or Pittsburgh, or anywhere else, relative to the amount and quality of the talent around him. But Jesus Christ, they aren’t going to hypnotize him. He is not a dog. It appears that this already great team will be even better if they can pull off the tightrope-like feat of not being assholes. Which I will grant you, given that it’s Belichick and Brady, is not a lock. Except deep down we all know it is.
EDIT: As you probably guessed, I spent a lot of time on this before Tuesday night, when news of Brown’s alleged sexual assault broke. I stand by the points made supra, which really have fuck all to do with what Brown does in his personal life. The allegations as of press time certainly lead to a lot of questions, all of which are outside of the purview of a gambling column. The Ruthless writer in me wants to discuss the probability of someone nutting on your back without you knowing that something sexual was going on in that room beforehand, but that’s a landmine and this is a football column, so the lawyer in me will just say that those are, at present, allegations in a civil suit and nothing more. I’m pretty sure that those text messages at paragraph 39 aren’t going to do him any favors, but honestly I only got about half of his point – they may as well have been written in Welsh. HEY LOOK FOOTBALL!
L.A. CHARGERS -2.5 v. DETROIT
So last week’s Colts-Chargers tilt was more of a dogfight than a lot of people expected. It was a fun game to watch, but even with time remaining I was already wary of the takes to come. And right on cue, here we go: Jacoby Brissett Shines in 2019 Debut. I’m not going to drag the author – the guy writes for Stampede Blue for Pete’s sake – but come on. Brissett was 21 of 27 for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns. That’s adequate quarterbacking. It would shine in a MAC debut.
Marlon Mack’s 174 yards and 7 YPC was the standout performance of that game, and serves as an indictment of the Chargers’ run defense. So why are we taking them this week? Because Phillip Rivers threw for 333 yards and a 3/1 split. And now he gets to take on last year’s 28th-ranked defense augmented by Justin Coleman, Rashaan Melvin, and rookie Tracy Melvin. Tre Flowers was on the injury report but appears to be ready to play.
I’d argue that a defense that held Arizona to 24, most all of which came in the second half, can do a lot better against an offense devoid of Marlon Mack. In his place they will face Kerryon Johnson, who only got 49 yards out of 16 carries. Sub-expectation season openers are not uncommon, and we all know one of these teams is going to fight for the AFC West title while the other dukes it out to avoid the NFC North cellar. We’re into real games now, boys. The sooner Rivers gets his squad to realize it, the more of these we can collect on.
ARIZONA +13 v. BALTIMORE
First thing’s first: we adore Lamar Jackson around here. We collected on his unstoppable progression into a starter last year, we’ve continually praised his fight for respect against a hilariously-outdated ownership mindset, and his “not bad for a running back” presser quote was the best media moment of the year so far. Personally I was glued to the set for much of his 324-yard 158.3 (!) QBR performance in Miami last week. So with all that in mind, allow me to be the first to say: it ain’t gonna happen again.
More to the point, it ain’t gonna happen this week. Sorry to be a wet blanket, but hanging 49 on Miami before letting his backup – some dude named RG3, whoever that is – come in and mop up says more about Miami than it does about the Ravens.
It’s just too many points. And by the way, all of you Lifetime movie producers who spent the week storyboarding I Wanna Play Quarterback: The Lamar Jackson Story might want to catch a replay of last week’s Cards game, where 5’10” 207-pound Kyler Murray led his team back from a 24-6 deficit to tie the Lions, all in the fourth quarter of his first NFL game.
Murray may eventually make every rookie mistake in the book. Jackson could develop into the total-package, agile-pocket-passing field general he seems capable of being. But neither of these things are going to happen in the second week of the season, and neither of these teams is a 13-point favorite against anybody, at least until one of them plays the Dolphins again.
KANSAS CITY -7 v. OAKLAND
Speaking of Week 1 overreactions, this line has already dropped 1.5 points and could go further south before Sunday, so take your time. Oakland looked perfectly competent in the late game on Monday night, but given that half of the sportswriters in America had spent their weekends eulogizing the Raiders’ season before it even started, an underdog win was almost inevitable.
Trouble is, this one counts just as much, and the Chiefs are as good as they were last year, if not better. Patrick Mahomes threw for 378 and 3TDs and the KC defense put Nick Foles on the bench and had their way with Gardiner Minshew until a couple of fourth-quarter scores after the game was already out of reach. I will grant you Tyreek Hill’s sternoclavicular joint injury, but there is enough offense on this team to make up for it, aided greatly by the good fortune of LeSean McCoy landing in their lap after being cut from Buffalo on September 1 and rushing for 81 yards on 10 carries a week later.
No sky has fallen. The Raiders will not lose every game this year, and the Chiefs won’t go 19-0. But these divisional rivals, at this time, are more than a score apart, and that’s where we come in.
CHICAGO -2.5 v. DENVER
It’s too soon to speak in absolutes, but thus far we were right about Mitch Trubisky, who certainly looked like Mitch Trubisky last Thursday. The Folger’s Crystals of quarterbacks, one might say (owe you one Devon!) struggled to heap together three points of offense in an ATS loss against the Packers. The thing is, the Bears defense kept it close, by limiting Aaron Rodgers to all of ten points. If they can do that to Rodgers, they can do much worse to Joe Flacco, whose 268 yards of total offense only accounted for 16 points in Oakland.
The over is too low at 40, but this is one of those throwaway games that the Bears win just to keep in the orbit of the postseason. A lot of what I’ve seen online points to Vic Fangio dialing up various ways to torture Trubisky, but that didn’t seem to work out for Derek Carr. If I had to choose to be one of the starting QBs on Sunday, I’m not picking the one who gets stared down by a vengeful Khalil Mack all night.
Ignoring the small sample size, this looks to make for an ugly, hockey-score game, but rather than declare Chicago’s season dead, I think it more prudent to stick to the stats. The Bears are the better team on paper, by more than 2.5 in either direction, so that’s where my money is going.
Well would you look at that! *clears throat* Trail-er for sale or rent, dee-dee-do, something about a broom I think, yadda yadda, King of the Road! I know our fathers and our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers – not to belabor the point – tried to warn us off of road dogs and rivals, but that’s just how this week’s card shapes up. And as it happens, every Chargers game is an away game and the Chiefs have lost exactly one road game to a division rival in the last four years, so don’t be scared. Or scurred, as the kids say now.